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Blue Raiders answer gut-check with crucial SBC road win at UALR

February 18, 2006 · MT Media Relations
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Facing one of its biggest gut-checks of the season in a pivotal Sun Belt Conference game at nemesis Arkansas-Little Rock Saturday, Middle Tennessee responded in resounding fashion by collecting a hard-fought 68-58 win at the Stephens Center.

The triumph was the Blue Raiders' first at Arkansas-Little Rock since joining the Sun Belt in 2000-01 and also the first win here overall since 1991. Coming off an emotional 75-74 setback at Arkansas State Thursday, Middle Tennessee's young basketball team showed great poise with its back to the wall and secured a win that keeps alive the squad's chances of a second-place finish and accompanying bye in the Sun Belt Championship.

Senior guard Fats Cuyler led three Blue Raiders in double figures with 17 points on the strength of an 11-of-11 performance from the free-throw line, while tying for the team lead with five rebounds. Junior guard Bud Howard stepped up with one of his best games of the season, tying his career high with 16 points. Marcus Morrison tallied 11 points, and Theryn Hudson completed a strong road trip with eight points.

"I'm very proud of our basketball team and the manner in which they responded to a tough road challenge against a quality team," Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. "We had so many people step up and make contributions in this win. Fats Cuyler showed great leadership and Bud Howard was huge. He was the MVP of the game. We showed a lot of character here tonight and we made the big plays down the stretch to get the win."

Middle Tennessee (14-11, 6-6) won for the sixth time in eight games to earn a split in the season series by limiting the two-time defending East Division champions to 31.4 percent (16-of-51) from the field - the lowest field goal percentage by an opponent this season. The Blue Raiders also knocked down 28-of-31 free throws for a 90.3-percent clip, including nailing eight straight in the final 1:27.

"This was a game we really needed and I think you saw everyone on our team play with passion and make contributions," Howard said. "Even guys that were not in the game were on the bench pulling for one another and making a difference. We are playing well right now and this is a big road win and gives us momentum going back home. Our defense was really the difference and we didn't make mistakes down the stretch. We played with the lead and protected it throughout the second half."

The Blue Raiders fell behind 7-2 at the outset and trailed 22-15 with 4:37 remaining in the first half; however, they went on a 14-1 run and finished the half on a big 3-pointer from Howard to take a 29-23 advantage into the break. The Blue Raiders carried the momentum into the second half and started the decisive final 20 minutes with a 10-3 run to establish a 39-26 lead and never looked back.

Arkansas-Little Rock (13-12, 5-7) cut the deficit to seven on three occasions down the stretch, but the Blue Raiders answered each run with clutch plays to protect the lead. Middle Tennessee will return to action when it plays host to rival Western Kentucky Thursday at 7 p.m.

NOTES: Middle Tennessee concluded the road portion of its schedule having played 15 of its 25 games away from home ... The Blue Raiders improved to 54-2 under Kermit Davis when outshooting the opposition ... With the win against Arkansas-Little Rock, Middle Tennessee notched its 35th Sun Belt win under Kermit Davis, which is third among league members since the 2002-03 season ... The Blue Raiders notched their 17th Sun Belt road win under Kermit Davis, which is tied with Louisiana-Lafayette for the most league road wins since 2002-03 ...Adam Vogelsberg moved into sixth on the single-season 3-point goals made list at Middle Tennessee with 63 ... With one blocked shot against the Trojans, Kyle Young moved into 10th on the all-time list with 44 ... Fats Cuyler was 11-of-11 from the free-throw line to become the 11th player in program history to shoot 100 percent from the charity stripe with a minimum of 11 attempts ... Vogelsberg extended his streak of consecutive free throws made to 15 with two successful attempts. He has had four streaks of 15 or more consecutive makes this season and is currently atop the single-season list for free-throw percentage at 89.8 ... Freshman center Theryn Hudson averaged 10 points on the road trip with 12 points at Arkansas State and eight against Arkansas-Little Rock.

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